One area of employment that has been accentuated by the pandemic is the concept of employee wellbeing and mental health.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as follows: “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Therefore, if a person feels that she or he can cope with the stresses that are being presented, then s/he can function well in society. As we spend most of our waking time at work, it is essential that mental wellbeing at work is kept in check.

Supporting mental health in the workplace is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity. Studies have consistently shown that employee well-being predicts job attitudes and performance, and it also has its implications on productivity and work relationships. Employees who have a positive perception of the status of their well-being are more likely to trust their superiors and follow company rules. Such behaviour will lead to high-performing organisations that are productive and innovative.

According to recent research conducted by misco, 79 per cent of respondents experienced mental health issues such as stress and anxiety related to work. This has increased from 63 per cent mentioned in 2021. So, what can leaders do to support their team members?

Even in the most uncertain of times, the role of a leader is the same, that is to facilitate and guide a team. This also involves supporting their mental health. The positive thing is that most of the tools you can implement are the same ones that make you an effective leader.

Normalising mental health challenges

One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that it helped in normalising mental health challenges, as almost everyone has felt some level of discomfort. As a leader, being honest about your mental health struggles allows employees to feel more comfortable to talk with you about the mental health challenges that they are experiencing.

In fact, 72 per centof respondents from the same study say they have never disclosed unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager – this has increased from 68 per cent reported in 2021. Therefore, it is essential that employees are provided with the right channels to disclose their struggles in order to ensure employee wellbeing. Moreover, when leaders share their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them more relatable, and seem more empathic and brave, as authentic leadership can nurture trust and improve employee engagement and performance.

Practice healthy behaviours

It is important that you do not just say that you support positive mental health but that you also practice it, so that your team feels encouraged to prioritise self-care and set boundaries. By setting boundaries it does not mean less accountability, but that you provide your team with the empowerment to know when to self-care. Unfortunately, many a time, leaders are so focused on getting the work done and on leading the team that they forget to take care of themselves. Having the confidence to share how you are taking care of yourself helps you be a mental health role model for your team and also prevents you from burning out.

Be flexible

You should expect that the situation, your team’s requirements and also yours will continue to evolve and change. That is why you should leave room for flexibility, so that you can adjust your team dynamics and address any problems as they crop up. Flexibility requires constant check ins, as discussions will allow you to adjust your approach to support mental health. A flexible approach is about having proactive communication that allows your team members to design and maintain the boundaries they need to preserve their mental health and work to their maximum potential. What this means in practical terms is that you should set standards and KPIs to ensure that company objectives are met, but be flexible on how these are reached. The level of flexibility will depend on the sector and the type of role being carried out, however what I am saying is that proactively offering flexibility is key whenever possible, by both the employer and the employee.

And again… communicate, communicate, communicate

Make sure that employees know where they stand and be an advocate of positive, honest communication which will reflect on the relationships you have. Avoid stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads and prioritising what needs to be accomplished and make sure that you keep your team updated about any changes in your organisation.

In misco’s survey about mental wellbeing at work, 2/3 of respondents stated that their employer invests in mental well-being initiatives. Respondents were asked what initiatives they are offered at work, and the majority of them (47 per cent) mentioned that their organisation offers work life balance initiatives such as flexible hours, followed by an employee assistance programme/therapy (23 per cent) and 22 per cent mentioned that they have an open communication culture at their workplace. It is essential that you make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them.

The study also revealed that slightly more than half (53 per cent) of the respondents do not feel confident to disclose unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager. Moreover, although disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems can be helpful as it would avoid burnout, less concentration and lower productivity, 72 per cent stated that they never disclosed such problems to their current employer or manager. This could be due to stigma attached to such situations were the person going though a difficult time would feel too vulnerable to disclose their current state of mind.

So, communication of such benefits is essential. If you’ve shared the initiatives, do communicate them yet again. Also be mindful that stigma may stop employees from making use of their mental health benefits, so normalise the use of these services.

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